Tag Archives: international development

How a year flies by.

I recently returned from New York where I visited The Art Show, an annual art event that has been a big part of my life for the past twenty years!  It was this same time, one year ago I left the art world (or so I thought) to become the Executive Director of The Samburu Project.  I handed out brochures to art world friends and everyone wished me luck.  I came back to LA and dove straight into TSP’s Walk for Water.  I can’t believe how fast that year flew by.  It’s been action-packed!

Visiting The Art Show a year later, my colleagues and collector friends all wanted to know how it was going and asked me to tell them about Kenya.  In short, it’s going great!  I’ve had plenty of challenges learning about the non profit sector (that’s what the non profit people say – “sector”), meeting the TSP donors, trying to learn all the names of the Kenyan villages like Lendadapoi and Lokunlyani, learning all about well drilling, well parts, water systems, water jargon, WASH terminology and the like.  I’ve had to learn a zillion new names of donors, volunteers, interns, vendors, in between learning how to write a grant and deal with the world’s slowest internet in the world’s tiniest office.  I couldn’t have made it through without Kiki who’s been there by my side through it all and the many angels that have been guiding me when I needed some guidance.

A year flies by when you are learning a new job.  If you followed this blog and/or our social media at all you’d know a little bit of what’s been going on around this water cooler.  What you might not know is there have been a lot of people who have helped steer TSP through this transition year. I am grateful for a wonderful board and staff in California and Kenya, and friends, donors and supporters, volunteers who I have met along the way. 

After the 2016 walk we re-branded the organization, launched a new website, procured funding for 9 more wells and repaired a few that needed some TLC.  I traveled to Kenya twice, visited 53 wells and met lots of Kenyans. Whew!

Now it’s time for the Walk for Water again.  Last year we raised $55,000 at the walk.  We did this by growing the event from our original Hermosa walk and 1 satellite walk in Stamford to an event that included 8 additional satellite walks from San Francisco to Atlanta to New York City – so many friends joined the TSP team!  We are all working very hard to make sure the 2017 walk is even better and bigger.  I think we can get there with your help.  This year we have 13 total walks, including one that is scheduled for Nairobi in July. That will be a first!

I’ve taken a lot of my art world friends and colleagues on this journey with me.  I’ve also met a lot of new friends in the US and Kenya who believe in our common humanity and that access to clean water is a human right.  I want to thank you all for supporting the mission of The Samburu Project and let you know that you are all very important to the success of our small but mighty organization.

It’s Spring, we just celebrated Earth Day, let’s all get out in this beautiful world, wherever you are and join me on Sunday, April 30 to Walk for Water.  If you can’t walk, please consider making a donation. All donations make a big impact in Samburu.

Thank you for joining me on this journey.



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Hello Aldo

I met Aldo Lesuutia last fall when I spent time at the  the Lekiji community during their well drill.  You might remember reading that Aldo showed up one morning and never left my side. To say that Aldo is an unusual person is a bit of an understatement. Aldo grew up in Samburu East but as a young man, headed for Mombasa where he met and fell in love with an English tourist. They married and he subsequently spent four years living in East London where he was introduced to Chinese and Italian food, the underground, and a vastly different life than he knew in Kenya.  Eventually he returned to his tribal community where he is now married with a new baby and occasionally cooks Italian food for his family.

Aldo is one of the many Samburu volunteers that work directly with TSP in the local community.  He is always available to report on the goings-on in the community and the status of our wells. As you can imagine, Aldo’s understanding of western culture and command of the English language are invaluable to The Samburu Project (and who can resist his smile and keen fashion sense). Aldo sends a big Thank You to all the TSP donors and supporters for the water wells they are providing in Samburu East.


Saipani and Aldo Lesuutia.



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Meet Our Interns: Rachael

I have been interning at the Samburu Project for about 4 months now and it has been a real learning opportunity for me. At the beginning of the school year, I was definitely stressed about my skills and past experience in terms of entering the work force. I am a senior at UCLA studying International Development so I guess you could say that I was and still am a little nervous about graduating. After a long summer full of professional rejection (lol) I was feeling a little discouraged. But I got lucky and a friend of mine told me about an opening at the Samburu Project so applied immediately. I have a few friends who worked here in the past so I thought it was a great opportunity. I’m not going to lie…I did not have a strong interest in water sanitation/accessibility, I was a lot more concerned about actually having an internship and getting general experience.
I first worked with another intern in social media to publicize our Samburu Splash Bash event in November. Digging through old pictures and articles, I became familiar with past accomplishments and how much work it takes to drill just one well (and we’ve drilled 63!). I’ve learned what water scarcity means and the distinct social and economic implications it has. In my area of study, we mostly talk about theories of development…why this method failed…why this economist was wrong…why we even look at development. After talking so much about development, being at the Samburu Project is refreshing and enlightening. I actually get to see where theory is put into action and the impact we are having on those most in need. I can definitely say I’ve learned a lot about an issue that at times is overlooked amongst other global concerns. But the truth is, water is at the base of it all: education, economic stability, women’s empowerment, health, anything. Water creates the opportunity to develop in the first place.

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Water as a Foundation to Development

We say that phrase a lot in the Santa Monica HQ. “Water as a Foundation to Development.” But when you stop and really ponder that statement, do you really attribute your education, your business, and your livelihood to water? While I am sure all of us are grateful to have access to water fr our daily use, it is very easy to forget that water impacts almost every facet of our life. To the Samburu people, that realization is not lost or taken for granted.

“This Well Gave Birth to This Nursery”

We arrived at Lbaa lo Ltepes 1/Remot 2 Well on Tuesday afternoon to find several Samburu mamas using the well. They told us that they used spend the entire day (from very early in the morning till the evening) searching for water. Now, they are literally minutes away from the well. One of the ladies laughed as she said that if you are in the middle of cooking and realize you do not have enough water, you could put a pot on the stove with some oil and spices, run to the well to get water, and return to the pot being ready to add the water and other ingredients.

They use the water for drinking, eating, and washing. They have a rule in the community that the only animals that can drink from this well are the baby livestock. They enforce this rule in order to protect the well from contamination and ensuring that it will not be overused. With the time saved, women can now engage in many different jobs –they go to the market to trade livestock and buy food, look after the animals and children, and tend to various domestic duties.

When asked how this well has changed their daily life, Yapais Lesamana said the following statement: “This well gave birth to this nursery.” Because of this well, the community was able to form their own nursery which is attended by 110 small children! That number is staggering to me. I try and place myself in  the shoes of their parents- how grateful they must be now to have the opportunity to provide their children with an education. These boys and girls no longer have to stay at home all day, hungrily waiting for their mothers to come back from a long days search of water to take care of them. They already have a better future.

When asked how the well has personally changed her life, Yapais said that she can now save the energy she used to expend in search of water. Instead of spending the entire day looking for water, Yapais is now the cook for the new nursery. You can tell the joy that she derives from serving these small children and the pride she takes in this nursery.

Yapais led us to where the nursery is. I don’t know what I was expecting- a small room? A concrete slab? I guess at least something that resembles a permanent structure. When she finally stopped walking, I realized what she meant when she said that the biggest problem facing the community now is the lack of structure for the nursery. I was shocked to see that there really was nothing really resembling a building.  Their current kitchen is simply a small hearth on the ground with some rocks and firewood. They are in the process of constructing a kitchen out of tall tall branches and sticks.

Earlier this year, they had cleared a circular near two trees and began to put up big branches and sticks that would serve as the walls to the nursery classroom. However, this past rainy season, the rain forcefully knocked everything down, leaving a big pile of branches.

For now, all 110 students meet under this big tree and have to sit on the floor. Though they still have a long way to go to building a safe, permanent structure for the nursery, everyone is grateful for the opportunity to send their children to school and all the parents do whatever they can do to help build the school including pulling all the weeds that grow under the tree so that the students have a firm, dry place to sit.

While it is very easy to become saddened and disheartened by the condition of this school, Yapai and Lucas reminded me that without this well they wouldn’t even have the opportunity to send their children to nursery. One of the things I take away from this eye-opening visit is just how highly regarded education is around the world and the great lengths people will take to ensure that their kids will be educated. I doubt these children complain about having to sit on the ground; rather they are probably excited at the chance to even be in this environment learning new things and engaging their minds. I think about when my elementary school was undergoing construction and we were forced to stay in trailer classrooms for one or two months- how much complaining and grumbling there was among the students! Until we see what others have to go through to get a basic education, we will never be able to appreciate our teachers, our facilities and our school systems. Sure, the classroom size in public schools have increased to more than 30 students to 1 teacher, but imagine having only 1 teacher for 100 kids? Again, at least for me, it is all about perspective.

“This Well Led to our Brick Making Business”

Friday Morning, Lucas and I headed to Treetop Well. While we were still five minutes away from the well, Mary, the chairwoman of the well committee and women’s group, was waiting for us under a tree, having been alerted by Paul  that we would be visiting. Lucas and Mary quickly began to update one another and I could tell by the tones in their voices that they not only liked but also respected one another greatly.

Mary immediately took us to see one way in which the water has been used to generate income in this community- brick making! She led us under a tree where there must have been 500-600 bricks there and close by. These bricks are no joke- I didn’t dare try and pick one up, they look heavy!

Normally what happens is that the women’s group is contracted by an individual, school, or government agency to build the bricks for the foundation of a new building. Since it costs a relatively good amount of initial capital to buy the cement (1000 KES or $12.5 for a bag of cement that yields 25 bricks) and it is too costly for the community to afford it, they agree to provide the dirt, water and labor for the job and in return the person who contracted the work will supply the cement. Mary said that they make around 50,000 KES or $625 every six months off of this brick making business! Also great news is the fact that the number of contracts have been increasing in the past couple of years due to the expansion of the local government offices. While this bodes well for the Treetop community, Mary revealed that they could be making 30 more shillings per brick (50 shillings versus 20 shillings) if they could buy and supply the cement themselves. They are also currently hiring/renting the machines used to make the bricks at 300 shillings per day.

You might wonder why this community couldn’t allocate some of their profits towards buying  sufficient supply of cement to serve as the initial capital they need for full ownership of this business. The reason is actually quite an honorable one and really shows the priorities of this community: they have been allocating a huge portion of the profits from this business to pay for a young boy’s secondary education. This particular boy comes from a very poor family in this community but he was very bright and the best in his class. In Kenya, primary education is paid for by the government and is free for the students. However, any student that wishes to pursue secondary or university level education must pay school fees. Recognizing the potential this student had, Mary and the rest of the women’s group decided to sponsor him and pay for his secondary school fees and support him for all four years; there are three terms per school year and at 20,000 shillings per term, the total comes out to be 240,000 shillings or $4,000. As you can imagine, this is a huge expense for this community and could otherwise be used to buy cement and other necessary items. However, their resolve to support this boy through his secondary education shows the commitment they have to the youth in this community. Their hope and dreams truly are placed on these students who have the brains and ability to make it through to higher education. Many of the well communities see Lucas as a type of role model- they aspire to see their youth pursue a college degree like Lucas and then come back and make a difference in their community. This decision as to how to use their profits really speaks volume as to what is important to people- they do not make bricks for the sake of having money and becoming wealthier; rather they are committed to this business in order to invest in the future of their community. In this way, this well has brought much more than water to this community- it has allowed them to slowly break the cycle of poverty and has given them what we all search for, hope.

(Just for clarification, this isn’t the boy they are paying to go to secondary school. He was just my new friend that kept on staying close to me during the visit 🙂 ).

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